CLASSICAL LOST AND FOUND
FORGOTTEN MUSIC BY GREAT COMPOSERS AND GREAT MUSIC BY FORGOTTEN COMPOSERS
31 JULY 2013
The albums below are "Classical Releases Of Current Key Significance," or "CROCKS", if you will. To purchase an album, simply click on one of the Web site retail outlets given in the "AVAILABILITY" table under the write-up.
Andreae: Pno Conc, Constk (pno), Vn Conc, Rhap (vn); Pavri/Altenburger/Andreae/Bourn SO [Guild]
RECOMMENDED BEST FIND (1 CD)
Swiss-born Volkmar Andreae (1879-1962) is best remembered as a great conductor who was asked at one point (1911) to succeed Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) as head of the New York Philharmonic. However, he chose to remain in Switzerland where he presided over the Tonhalle Orchestra, Zurich, for over forty years (1906-49).
Also a composer of considerable merit, Volkmar studied at the Cologne Conservatory between 1897 and 1900, and Guild continues their invaluable revival of his music (see 13 July 2012) with this recent release featuring four concertante works. All are world premiere recordings of significant selections that have been gathering dust far too long.
The disc begins with two of his early unpublished works featuring the piano, the first being a concerto completed in 1898 while he was still a student. In three connected movements, the opening one is a fetching sonata form allegro [T-1], which was apparently revised as there are some 209 bars worth of orchestral parts that were cut from the final full score (see the informative album notes).
It starts in the grand romantic tradition with a brief rising motif (BR) for orchestra [00:04] and then piano [00:24], hinting at a subdued melancholy theme (SM) that soon follows [01:12]. Some flashy keyboard-decorated bridgework is next, and then the soloist plays a drop-dead gorgeous melody (DG) [02:49]. This is taken up by the tutti [03:17], and a soothing elaboration of DG ensues [03:44].
Then we get an engaging harmonically peripatetic development [04:38] involving BR, SM and DG, with DG initiating the closing recap [08:02]. It ends the movement with additional peaceful recollections of DG -- Andreae knew when he had a good thing! -- plus hints of BR and SM, which flatline into a sustained final chord.
This begins the adagio [T-2], which is a heartfelt subdued offering based on a winsome delicate idea [01:46]. The latter undergoes some dramatic transformations, and then returns [06:45] to conclude the movement in much the same mood as it began.
Its final chord has no sooner ended, and we get the first notes of the presto finale [T-3]. This starts with a tipsy introduction [00:00] and childlike sparkling tune (CS) [00:08] played by the orchestra with scalar piano runs. An exotic-sounding melody (ES) follows [01:14], making one wonder if Andreae had encountered the folk music of Eastern Europe during his stay in Germany.
ES and CS chase each other around in rondo fashion with colorful bravura piano decorations. Then we get another Andreae winning romantic idea (WR) [02:56], followed by some fireworks for soloist and tutti. These introduce a coda reprise [04:25] that recalls CS, ES and WR, bringing the concerto to a glorious conclusion.
The Concertstück in B minor for Piano and Orchestra (1900) [T-4] was completed just after Volkmar finished his studies in Cologne. In one extended movement, it's a more compact, subtle piece than its predecessor with a timpani heartbeat opening somewhat reminiscent of that for the Brahms' (1833-1897) first symphony (1855-76).
Strings and winds then appear in a relaxed introduction, after which the soloist enters with a sweeping flourish [02:13]. An introspective episode is next, and then the piano plays an infectious serpentine idea (IS) [04:26] that undergoes a romantic elaboration.
It's followed by a transitional passage [05:32] and another Andreaen melodic gem (MG) [06:42] with a loving elaboration. Hints of IS then initiate a brief bravura development [09:18] dissecting the foregoing ideas. The return of IS on the piano heralds a recap [12:58] that ends the piece with a thrilling big tune restatement of MG [13:51] in grand romantic fashion. You'll love it!
The disc concludes with a two published pieces featuring the violin, both of which are significantly more harmonically advanced. The first is Volkmar's concerto of 1935 that inhabits the expressionist world of Franz Schreker (1878-1934), and is in three movements, the last two proceeding without a break.
It begins [T-5] in the depths of orchestral despair with the violin appearing [00:30] like some descending bird from above singing an increasingly agitated song. It's picked up by the tutti, and the tempo accelerates with the soloist launching into a chirpy avian motif [02:37] accompanied by the orchestra.
This reaches a climax succeeded by a glistening passage for strings and oboe introducing a dark rhapsodic episode [03:50]. The violin then becomes more excited anticipating the frenetic virtuosic conclusion, which has a couple of heroic passages [06:55] worthy of Richard Strauss (1864-1949).
The second movement [T-6] is atypically a minischerzo where the violin and orchestra flit about one another with entomological fugal abandon. It's followed immediately by the finale [T-7], which begins with low shimmering strings and a cadenza-like display from the soloist.
The tutti respond in a meditative manner, and a relaxed introspective passage follows suddenly to be overtaken by the orchestra and violin breaking into a couple of cheerful skittering ditties [04:41]. These are developed in rondo fashion ending the concerto with a big Mendelssohn (1809-1847) smile.
From fifteen years earlier we next get the Rhapsody for Violin and Orchestra (1919-20) [T-8], which lies stylistically between the two concertos. An immaculately written piece with a folksy patina, there isn't an idle moment!
The lovely extended opening theme (LE) [00:01] for soloist and tutti gives birth to a couple of attractive ideas. These are respectively whimsical [01:45] and amorous [02:54], the latter spiced with some eerie violin harmonics [03:21-03:32]. They make rondolike reappearances, and then the rhapsody ends in a flighty virtuosic coda with an emphatic final reminder of LE.
Indian pianist Fali Pavri and Austrian violinist Christian Altenburger share the honors here for their outstanding performances of these undiscovered works. Pavri's virtuosity ranks with that of the great romantic pianists, but he uses it only in service to the music. The same can be said about Herr Altenburger, whose gorgeous violin tone also reflects the Stradivarius instrument he played for these recordings.
Both artists receive superb support from Volkmar's grandson, conductor Marc Andreae, and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. Together they bring out all the structural and melodic detail of these sublime scores.
Made in the Lighthouse Concert Hall of the Poole Arts Center in Dorset, England, the recordings are good. They project a wide soundstage of considerable depth in a highly reverberant acoustic, which should appeal to those liking wetter sonics.
The piano sound is generally musical but a tad grainy in louder moments, and the violin is beautifully captured. Both soloists are well balanced against the orchestra, and the instrumental timbre is pleasing, although there is an occasional edge to massed violin passages.
In closing, perspicacious listeners will notice what sound like low level edit pops at the beginning of the violin concerto's first and last movements [T-5, 7], as well as the rhapsody [T-8].
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P130731)
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Chabrier: Bourré…, Gwendoline Ov, Lamento, L'Étoile (3 excs), etc; N.Järvi/SwisRom O [Chandos (Hybrid)]
AUDIOPHILE BEST FIND (1 SACD)
Over the past year Chandos and indefatigable conductor Neeme Järvi (b. 1937) have given us audiophile SACDs of old favorites by Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921, see 31 July 2012) and Franz von Suppé (1819-1895, see 25 February 2013). Now along with the world-renowned Orchestra of the Suisse Romande (OSR), they turn their attention to some equally beloved chestnuts by Emmanuel Chabrier (1841-1894).
Not only that, this release employs a new technology that allows microphone mixing while a high resolution, 24-bit/96-kHz multi-channel recording is in progress. The upshot is a better balanced, more natural sonic image, making this hybrid, CD(2)/SACD(2/5.0), disc even more spectacular than those mentioned above.
There's an irreverence about many of Chabrier's works that often leaves one smiling, and the first selection, his Joyeuse marche (originally known as Marche française), decidedly falls into this category. It's an orchestration the composer made around 1888 of a rondo for piano four hands dating from 1883-5. The cheeky key changes, syncopated rhythms and squirrely scoring apparently had the orchestra in stitches when it premiered that year, and have since made it a pops perennial.
Next a more serious undertaking, the lovely overture [T-2] to the two-act drama Gwendoline (1879-85, currently unavailable on disc), which takes place during what the composer referred to as "barbarous times" in Britain. Having chromatic affinities with Wagner's (1813-1883) Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (1862-7), it's headed towards Lalo's (1823-1892) Le Roi d'Ys (1888), which is based on a Breton legend.
The anxiety-fraught opening is spiked with melodic tidbits from the opera, one of which is a gorgeous extended melody (GE) [03:26]. There's a sensuous lyricism about GE that seems to reflect the composer's early formative years in the Auvergne region of central France, and anticipates Canteloube's (1879-1957) ever popular songs from there (1923-30). The thrilling developmental section that’s next, builds to a rousing climax with GE making a last dramatic appearance [07:20]. Then the overture ends in an explosive coda [08:37].
A brief respite follows with a tiny relaxed and delicate Habanera [T-3] inspired by a trip the Chabrier family took to Spain in 1882. Although a piano version was published in 1885, it seems to have originated as an orchestral piece.
It sets the mood for the succeeding España (1883) [T-4], which was also a consequence of that Spanish holiday, and arguably one of the most popular light romantic works ever written! Known far and wide, suffice it to say this colorful piece is an orchestral showpiece in the Berlioz (1803-1869) tradition, and augurs those Spanish delights that would come from Ravel (1875-1937).
A Chabrier rarity that's a complete change of pace is next, the Lamento [T-5] of 1874. With sighing woodwind solos and weeping strings it shows the rarely encountered wistful side of the composer's musical character. The pentatonic ending presages Debussy (1862-1918).
Modeled after a dance popular in the Auvergne, Bourrée fantasque (Fantastic Dance) from 1891 [T-6] was originally for piano and Chabrier's last piece. He began but never finished orchestrating it, and what we have here is an 1897 transcription done by Austrian conductor Felix Mottl (1856-1911). Its scurrying folkish outer passages surround a dramatic rhapsodic inner one [01:03-04:02], and will have you cavorting around your listening room.
The four movements of the symphonic Suite pastorale are orchestrations the composer completed in 1888 of the sixth, seventh, fourth and tenth selections respectively from his Dix pièces pittoresques (Ten Picturesque Pieces, 1880) for piano. Once again there would seem to be a connection with Emmanuel's Auvergne upbringing, but there's also a French Baroque simplicity calling to mind the keyboard works of François Couperin (1668-1733) and Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683-1764).
The opening "Idylle" [T-7] floats about like a soap bubble, while "Danse villageoise" [T-8] is a catchy rustic ditty. "Sous-bois" ("In the Woods") [T-9] returns to the relaxed mood of the first selection but with ornithological implications. Then the suite ends bumptiously with the antic, galumphing "Scherzo-valse" [T-10].
Three orchestral rarities from Chabrier's comic opera L’étoile (1877) come next. With a nutty plot having Vlad the Impaler of the House of Dracula overtones (see the amusing album notes), the overture [T-11] is another of pixilated Chabrier creation. Here several saucy ideas are tossed about with chromatic abandon, and then the piece ends huffing and puffing.
The entr'actes to the second and third acts are next. The former [T-12] starts off a bit like Bizet's (1836-1875) L'Arlésienne Suite No. 1 (1871-2), and then becomes a naughty can-can. The latter [T-13] begins with a hammering motif followed by a couple of winsome lyrical subjects that fill out the piece.
The disc closes with a couple of orchestral dances from another of Emmanuel's off-the-wall creations, the comic opera Le roi malgré lui (The King in Spite of Himself, 1884-7). While the plot is a bewildering vaudevillian-derived tale about Polish court politics in 1574, the score is glorious! In fact Ravel asserted its harmonic structure changed the whole course of French music.
The first "Fête Polonaise" ("Festival Polonaise") [T-14] begins with pounding drums [00:00] and brass fanfares [00:13] that immediately grab one's attention, whetting the appetite for the elaborate Gallic-spiced promenade that follows. Then we get "Danse slave" (Slavic Dance") [T-15], which is a captivating Russian number by way of Montmartre and the Moulin Rouge where one can imagine kicking Cossacks doing a wild hopak. It brings this scintillating disc to a spectacular conclusion.
Once again septuagenarian conductor Neeme Järvi certainly doesn't show his age in these supercharged performances. With the legendary OSR under his command, if anything he outdoes his Saint-Saëns and Suppé extravaganzas mentioned above, setting a new standard for everything on this highly desirable release.
Made in Victoria Hall, Geneva, the soundstage in all three play modes is broad and deep in a richly reverberant acoustic that will appeal to those liking wetter sonics. The instrumental timbre in both stereo modes is very natural with musical highs, a pleasing midrange, and clean lows aptly demonstrated by periodic whacks on the bass drum in the opening march [T-1]. The SACD one has the added advantage of a little more airiness and clarity, while the multichannel will give you a center orchestra seat. Audiophiles should take this along on their next highend safari!
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y130730)
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Figueroa: Ste (orch), Fl Conc, Pno Conc, Stg Qt; Soloists/Voronkov/ColomNaCon SO/Q-Arte Qt [Toccata]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
To date CLOFO's roster of South American composers has included ones from Argentina (see 12 September 2012 and 20 March 2013), Brazil (see 19 December 2011) and Venezuela (see 28 February 2012). Now they're joined by Luis Carlos Figueroa (b. 1923) of Colombia. As early as age four he was playing the piano by ear, and begin his musical education three years later at a newly founded conservatory in his hometown of Cali.
He then went on to study in Paris (1950-2) and Siena, Italy (1952-6), returning to Colombia in 1960. Since then he's pursued a teaching career, and become a prolific composer with close to 150 works currently to his credit. The four sampled on this recent release from the adventurous folks at Toccata Classics make their first appearance on an internationally known label.
The concert starts with a four-movement suite for orchestra written in 1980. The composer's Paris years seem reflected in the opening "Pastoral" [T-1] and "Nocturne" [T-2] where Debussy (1862-1916) and Ravel (1875-1937) come to mind. The next "Valse" [T-3] has all the grace of Constant Lambert's (1905-1951) ballet music, while the final allegro [T-4] is a scampering frolic with Colombian folk connections and the charm of Gabriel Pierné's (1863-1937) ballet Cydalise et le chèvre-pied (1914-15).
Figueroa's piano concerto of 1986 that’s next shows a preoccupation with hemiola three-against-two cross-rhythms. In three movements the initial sonata form allegro [T-5] begins with a brisk orchestral riff bringing Ginastera's (1916-1983) ballets to mind. The piano then introduces a rhythmically jagged, angular idea [00:04] followed by a more contemplative one [02:51], which undergo the usual development [03:50]. The following recapitulation [06:01] ends with a flamboyant cadenza [06:35] concluding the movement insistently.
The tuneful moderato [T-6] begins with horn and shimmering strings playing a pensive melancholy passage (PM) [00:01]. Then the piano makes a dramatic entrance [00:53] eventually intoning a folksy ditty to a catchy strummed string accompaniment [01:52]. The tutti follow in a melodic vein [02:17], and the music builds to a muscular climax, only to fall away to a reminder of PM on the clarinet [03:32]. An arpeggiated passage on the piano [04:16], and a final subdued whiff of PM for soloist and tutti ends the movement peacefully.
There's a light air about the finale [T-7], which opens with the orchestra intoning an excited folkish ditty (EF) [00:01] made all the more striking by the presence of a xylophone. Oddly enough EF bares a strange resemblance to VW in the concertino which is next. Considering that work's association with Andean flute music, both EF and WS may be derived from the same folk source.
Returning to the concerto, an elaboration on the piano follows [01:05], and then a rollicking variational rondo where EF undergoes some inventive transformations. These include a spastic stabbing variant [02:37] and two lovely melodic treatments [03:52, 05:09]. The conclusion recollects EF [06:04], and ends the concerto with a bravura barrage from the soloist and tutti.
The earlier three-movement Concertino for Flute, String Orchestra and Timpani (1968) has reminiscences of that Andean flute music, which a few years ago was being performed on city streets by a variety of South American folk groups. The initial allegro [T-8] is a sonata form construct with sunny opening and closing sections based on a vivacious winsome melody (VW) [00:02] that anticipates EF in the preceding concerto. They surround a brief pastoral development of VW [01:46-02:44].
The andantino [T-9] is a moving song for flute over an impassioned string accompaniment. With hints of VW in its outer sections, the concluding allegro [T-10] bares a close resemblance to the opening one. But this time around the music is saucier, more heavily timpani accented, and surrounds a pensive developmental core [01:38-02:18]. The movement ends cheerfully bringing the concertino full circle.
Written in Italy while Luis Carlos was still a student, the program closes with his string quartet of 1956. In the usual four movements, there's a continuity and directness that probably explain why it was so well received both there and in Paris. The opening allegro [T-11] is a study in contrasts between impressionistically tinted lyrical passages [00:01] and rhythmically torn ones [02:16] with the former having the last say to end the movement quietly.
An antsy scherzo with more of those hemiola relationships mentioned above, and a restrained central idea (RC) [01:18] is next [T-12]. Then we get a spaced-out chromatic lento [T-13] harboring hints of RC. But the music becomes well-grounded again in the animé finale [T-14], where a couple of frisky ideas play rondo tag with one another. They are the powder for some fiddle fireworks ending the quartet in a flash of virtuosity.
Russian conductor Guerassim Voronkov and the Columbian National Conservatory Symphony Orchestra deliver an elegant performance of the suite. The same can be said about the two concertante works where they team up with pianist Wilson Casallas and flutist Bryan Muñoz, both of whom are talented, up-and-coming artists.
As for the string quartet, it receives an enthusiastic reading by the Colombian-based Cuarteto Q-Arte. Formerly known as the Cuarteto Arte Latinamericano, this ensemble has never been related to the Mexican Cuarteto Latinoamericano (see 25 May 2011).
Made at the National University of Colombia's Leon de Grieff Auditorium in Bogotá, the recordings project a wide deep soundstage for all the selections in a monster space with considerable reverberation. However, the sonic image is forward enough to preclude any blurring of Figueroa's delicate scores.
The instrumental timbre is pleasing in the orchestral selections as well as the quartet, and the soloists are well captured and balanced against the orchestra. These recordings should definitely appeal to romantics partial to wetter sonics, but may fall short of audiophile grade for those liking a more contained sound.
It should also be noted there's what sounds like the momentary remains of an errant horn note at the end of the piano concerto's first movement [T-5], in addition to a couple of strange snaps in the dead space between T-5 and 6, as well as 7 and 8. Finally as far as extraneous sounds are concerned, pointy-eared listeners may detect a couple of emphatic "harumphs" from one of the musicians in the quartet's first movement [T-11].
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P130729)
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Ghedini: Architetture Conc for Orch, Contrappunti, Marinaresca...; Soloists/Vecchia/Rome SO [Naxos]
AUDIOPHILE BEST FIND (1 CD)
Conductor Francesco La Vecchia and the Rome Symphony Orchestra (OSR) have given us several outstanding discs with the symphonic music of twentieth century Italian composers Alfredo Casella (1883-1947, see 23 July 2010), Franco Ferrara (1911-1985, see 17 August 2011), and Goffredo Petrassi (1904-2003, see 18 February 2013). Now they serve up another featuring three orchestral works by Giorgio Federico Ghedini (1892-1965). These are the only currently available modern day, studio recordings of them.
Ghedini studied in Italy and from 1918 through 1962 taught in Turin, Parma and finally Milan, where he became director of the local conservatory (1951-62). Beginning in the early 1900s he would also go on to write a considerable amount of music throughout his career. While his works would remain tonal, the mature ones, which include those here, show a level of originality bordering on the avant-garde of his day. Consequently they'll require repeated listening to be fully appreciated, and are well worth the effort.
The program begins with his Architetture (Architectures, 1939-40), which is also called a Concerto for Orchestra in that strings, winds, brass and percussion, including piano, take on solo roles as in Hindemith's (1895-1963) pioneering effort of 1925. Over and above that it's a series of seven abstract tonal constructs lasting anywhere from a half to just over five minutes, which are thematically and structurally linked.
The first [T-1] finds the strings annunciating an insistent riff [00:01] with piano decorations, and segues into the next [T-2] featuring a chortling bassoon reminiscent of "Uranus" in Holst's (1874-1934) The Planets (1914-6). Then it's back to the strings for a swaying moto perpetuo [T-3], whose last measures are reinforced with percussion and brass.
These bridge into a tragic episode [T-4] having "Uranus-like" brass fanfares and wailing strings. The latter transition into the work's longest section, which is a mysterious lament [T-5] for weeping violins and winds along with a sobbing piano.
After a respectful pause we get a minischerzo [T-6] recalling Hindemith's Concert Music for Brass and Strings (1930), and presaging the more animated moments in Bernard Herrmann's (1911-1975) film scores (see 31 March 2011). It ends with a couple of whacks on the timpani, which also herald the final construct.
This is a monumental chorale [T-7] that begins in the brass and spreads throughout the orchestra. The composer ends it with a massive ambivalent chord, which may have reflected his doubts about the future of Fascist Italy. Incidentally, it was this work which finally brought him to the attention of Italian audiences when it premiered in 1941.
The next selection Contrappunti (Counterpoints, 1960-1) is in essence a three-movement concerto for string trio and orchestra. The counterpoint designation should not be understood in the sense of a J.S. Bach (1685-1750) fugue where there's a horizontally structured flow of melodic subjects above and below one another. On the contrary, Ghedini takes a more disjoined vertical approach reminiscent of Beethoven (1770-1827), allowing different ideas to run their separate courses with unifying juncture points.
The opening movement [T-8] begins with the trio supported by the other strings playing a frowning Beethoven (FB) idea [00:00]. An elaboration with some agitated figurations follows, and then FB is transformed into a sinuous lyrical melody (SL) [01:50] that could almost be out of some late romantic English work for string orchestra.
A highly sophisticated development starting with a repeated riff reminiscent of Carl Nielsen (1865-1931) follows [02:43]. This fills out the movement, and ends it peacefully with disembodied hints of FB that set the tone for the next one.
An andante misterioso [T-9], it certainly lives up to its name. Here a brooding cello opening [00:00] slowly gathers strength and gives way to some agitated tutti passages [02:57]. They're succeeded by a chromatically spooky, otherwordly episode with haunting woodwind and string solos. These slowly fade away, concluding the movement indecisively.
It's quickly followed by the final allegro [T-10], which opens dynamically [00:00] and presents us with a capricious scurrying theme [00:35]. This waxes and wanes in a variety of guises with a repetitious insistence anticipating twentieth century minimalism. The overall effect is one of a deconstructed fugue that concludes with an allusion to SL [08:04], and a powerful FB-based coda [08:34] ending the work tragically. The consummate skill with which Ghedini develops his thematic material, and juggles same between trio and tutti is remarkable.
The disc closes with the two-part conjoined Marinaresca e baccanale (Sea Piece and Bacchanal) from 1933. This is an entirely different kettle of fish from the more familiar seascapes of Debussy (1862-1918), Glazunov (1865-1936), Bridge (1879-1941) and Sibelius (1865-1957) that preceded it.
The first section [T-11] begins with low string groundswells and woodwind avian cries [00:00] presaging the tempest to come. The "medicane" that follows surrounds a peaceful eye of the storm episode [06:48-09:11], and launches without a break into the bacchanal finale [T-12].
Dancelike with brief fragmented motifs set to rhythms reminiscent of Stravinsky (1882-1971), the subject material is “minimalistically” persistent. Then the piece ends excitedly with percussion-accented flourishes for brass, and finally full orchestra.
As on their previous Mancinelli release for Naxos (see 20 June 2013) Maestro La Vecchia and the OSR give us splendid performances of these undeservedly neglected scores, the only reservation being a couple of shaky horn passages in Architetture. Their riveting account of Contrappunti with outstanding solo work from violinist Paolo Chiavacci, violist Riccardo Savinelli and cellist Giuseppe Scaglione, arguably make it one of the best symphonic pieces to come out of Italy during the middle of the twentieth century.
Architetture as well as Contrappunti were done in the OSR studios, and Marinaresca... the Via Conciliazione Auditorium, Rome. All three recordings project consistent, convincing soundstages made all the richer by warm reverberant surroundings. The instrumental timbre is musical with sparklingly highs and low clean bass. The many soloists and groups of instruments that pop up in the first two selections are ideally balanced against the rest of the orchestra. It seems the Italian engineers got everything right this time around!
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y130728)
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Taneyev, S.: Stg Qts Cpte V3 (5 & 7); Carpe Diem Qt [Naxos]
RECOMMENDED BEST FIND (1 CD)
Disregarding two unfinished efforts of 1874-6 and 1911, Russian composer Sergei Taneyev's (1856-1915) completed nine string quartets between 1880 and 1905. But a word of explanation about their current ordering as it's based on when they were published instead of written. Moreover numbers seven through nine were actually composed before the first six.
Sergei may not have been the tunesmith his friend and teacher Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) was (see the newsletter of 31 October 2009), but he became Russia's reigning authority on counterpoint, and eventually publish a highly regarded treatise about it. Accordingly there's an organizational integrity present in his music that mirrors Beethoven's (1770-1827) preoccupation with structural perfection rather than Schubert's (1797-1828) predilection for melody.
His string quartets certainly reflect this, and are a must for those interested in exploring some lesser known, exceptionally sophisticated Russian romantic chamber music! The Carpe Diem Quartet continues their survey of them for Naxos (see the newsletter of 10 May 2011) with this third installment. It begins with the "seventh", which was actually the first quartet Taneyev completed.
Dating from 1880 and in four movements, the opening allegro [T-1] introduces a graceful imploring theme (GI) [00:01]. The following contrapuntally oriented development that fills out the movement is built around a GI-based, four-voiced canon, and has an exhilarating harmonic structure.
The adagio [T-2] features a gorgeous extended theme [00:00] with stabbing interjections [01:53, 05:37] that insure the movement never becomes a romantic wallow. It couldn't be more different from the winsome scherzo [T-3], which is in ternary A-B-C-B-A form. Here A is melancholy [00:00, 04:01], B dancelike [00:44, 02:57], and C a lovely cantilena [01:56].
Section B somewhat anticipates the finale [T-4], which is a sonata-rondo allegro beginning with a childlike ditty [00:00] followed by a lyrical countersubject [01:22]. These are elaborated and repeated [02:49], after which there's a whimsical development [04:42] with canonic spicing. The quartet then ends mischievously with a sprightly coda [08:28] based on the main ideas.
The "fifth" quartet of 1902-3 that's next was actually the eighth one Taneyev finished. Also in four movements, the initial allegro [T-5], which is thematically fragmented, harmonically fickle and rhythmically syncopated, owes much to Beethoven’s late quartets.
On the other hand the following chromatically itinerant adagio [T-6] probably reflects the composer's fascination with Wagner (1813-1883) around the time he wrote this quartet. It presages what would soon come from his students, who included Alexander Scriabin (1872-1915), Paul Juon (1872-1940, see 28 November 2012), Sergei Rachmaninov (1873-1943), Reinhold Glière (1875-1956), and Nikolai Medtner (1880-1951).
The perky scherzo that's next [T-7] starts with a curious idea [00:01] making one wonder if Taneyev had the opening theme from J.S. Bach's (1685-1750) The Art of the Fugue (BWV 1080, 1745-50) in the back of his mind. It sets the mood for the presto finale [T-8], which kicks off with a bustling tune [00:00] that's imitatively elaborated and followed by a lovely lyrical subject [01:44]. The two ideas are tossed about with rondoesque élan, and the quartet ends in a mad dash to the finish line and carefree toss of the head.
Once again the Carpe Diem gives us superb accounts of both works with virtuosity to spare. As noted before, some may feel these performances don't have the "Russian Soul" of those earlier ones by the Taneyev Quartet. But there's a refinement here which many will find better suits Taneyev's contrapuntally convoluted writing.
Done at AudioLab in Boise, Idaho, the recordings present a wide soundstage in a sere studio environment. The string tone is musically bright, and the individual instruments clearly delineated revealing all the subtleties of these intricately structured quartets. That said, those with home theater systems and/or sound field processors may want to adjust them to synthesize lusher, wetter sonics.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P130727)
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Widor: Sym 2 (orch), Vc Conc, Pêcheurs de Saint-Jean (3 prels); Thedéen/Yates/RScotNa O [Dutton]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
The record industry finally discovered that besides organ music French composer Charles-Marie Widor (1844-1937) wrote a substantial body of significant orchestral works. Consequently CDs devoted to these have been proliferating as of late (see 6 January 2012) with this Dutton release featuring three of them being one of the most recent. All are world premiere recordings.
The program opens with a real rarity, three orchestral excerpts from Charles-Marie’s four-act lyric opera Les Pêcheurs de Saint-Jean (The Fishermen of Saint-Jean, 1905). The overture entitled "Scènes de la vie maritime" ("Scenes of Life at Sea") [T-1] gets off to a wind-swept stormy start (WS) [00:01]. And there are moments here where it's easy to imagine being on the tossing deck of Wagner's (1813-1883) Flying Dutchman (1841-52).
Calm is momentarily restored with a gorgeous romantic melody (GR) [02:44] followed by a development [03:35] that's sequentially heroic, tempestuous, and tender. WS is then recapped [06:42] along with GR [08:17] that after some dramatic elaboration becomes the final big tune [10:27], ending the overture exultantly.
The prelude to the second act titled "Le calme de la Mer" ("The calm of the Sea") [T-2] is next. A lovely subdued seascape with soothing horn calls and shimmering strings, it well lives up to its name and smacks of the opening from Delius' (1862-1934) Over the Hills and Far Away (1895-7).
It couldn't be more different from the final excerpt, which is the prelude to act three marked "Marche de Noël" ("Christmas March") [T-3]. A colorfully scored, spirited yuletide two-step with folk overtones, it ends this three-course musical feast on a light note.
Widor penned concertante works for harp (not currently available on disc), organ (see 8 February 2010) and piano, as well as the one for cello which is next. Dating from 1878, it's in three movements. The initial allegro [T-4] opens with glistening strings [00:01] and trumpet flourishes announcing the soloist, who enters playing an arresting angular theme (AA) [00:09]. The orchestra then repeats AA and injects a robust leaping idea (RL) [01:36].
A cheery elaboration follows, after which there’s a smoothed over variant of RL from the soloist [02:43]. A restatement of AA [03:58] by the tutti leads to an engaging development [04:50] with virtuosic passages for the cello. Then we get a dramatic recapitulation of past themes [07:32], a tiny cadenza [08:32], and the movement ends with a stern reminder of AA [10:03].
The lachrymatory slow one [T-5] is a heart-rending Widor gem, and the final allegro [T-6] a charming modified rondo. The latter begins with a flighty seedling idea (FS) stated by the orchestra [00:01] that’s followed by a brief cadenza.
Then soloist and tutti play a lyricized variant of FS (LV) [01:20] with Saint-Saëns (1835-1921) leanings. This is elaborated, repeated, and succeeded by a scurrying virtuosic mutation of FS (SV) [04:27].
SV initiates a rondo-like conclusion in which it's tossed about with LV and FS. Some dramatic orchestral passages containing a rousing remembrance of LV follow [09:23], and give way to subdued hints of past ideas decorated with harp embellishments. The concerto then ends blissfully with a subdued drumroll.
When it comes to Widor's works, there's understandable confusion over his symphonies, which generally speaking fall into three categories. So before proceeding any further, here's a brief accounting of what he left us.
First in the solo organ category, there are the ten symphonies (1972-1918) which remain his best known.
Then we have four for organ and orchestra bordering on the concerto genre (see the cello concerto notes above). These include an incomplete piece referred to as Symphony, Op. 42 (1882, see 8 February 2010) that's a reworking of the second and sixth pieces in the previous category. Additionally there’s one designated "3" written in 1895, a Sinfonia sacra from 1908 (see 8 February 2010), and the Symphonie antique of 1911, which also has a chorus.
Finally in the pure orchestral category there are only two. Simply numbered "1" (1870, currently unavailable on disc) and "2" (1882), it’s the latter which closes out this CD.
In four movements, the initial sonata form allegro [T-7] kicks off starts with an energetic heroic riff (EH) [00:01]. This will reappear with rondo regularity, thereby unifying the movement.
Widor then gives us a lyrical dance-like idea (LD) [01:07], after which EH introduces [02:08] a colorfully scored development [02:24] involving EH along with LD. An EH-based coda brings the movement to a spirited close.
The next moderato [T-8] contrasts a will-o'-the-wisp notion [00:01] with a more introspective idea [01:24] that turns somewhat ominous (SO) [02:38], and may remind you of Saint-Saëns' Omphale's Spinning Wheel (1871-2, see 31 July 2012). SO sets the tone for the andante [T-9], which is a lamentation featuring some weeping wind passages and a couple of forte funereal outbursts.
The finale [T-10] is a curious Widor creation with three engaging ideas that are continuously developed. The first of these is a twitchy, mousey motif [00:00], the second a bumbling ditty [00:11], and the third a stately melody of folkish cast [00:25]. The music then turns into a rondo fashion show with all three parading through it in a variety of colorful orchestral guises. It ends the symphony in great pomp, bringing this exceptional disc of discovery to a memorable conclusion.
A champion of symphonic repertoire that's languished far too long, and consequently a CLOFO regular, (see 16 January 2013), English conductor Martin Yates gives us another winning release. He gets spirited playing from the Royal Scottish National Orchestra for all these Widor selections. A big hand of applause also goes to Swedish cellist Torleif Thedéen for a sterling performance of the concerto.
Made in the Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow, the recordings present a moderately wide soundstage in a neutral acoustic. The orchestral timbre is bright and clear in keeping with Widor's conservative articulate scoring. However, there is a touch of upper end glitter now and then.
The cello tone is very natural, and the balance between soloist and tutti ideal. Generally speaking this disc is pleasingly musical, but may fall short of demonstration quality for listeners preferring a more subdued sound.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P130726)
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